NEW YORK (AFP): A New York judge on Friday fined Donald Trump’s family business the maximum penalty possible of $1.6 million for committing tax fraud.
The sum, paltry to the billionaire real estate developer’s amassed fortune, is nevertheless symbolically significant as the ex-president eyes the White House again amid a host of legal woes.
The Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp., entities of the Trump Organization, were found guilty last month of running a years-long scheme to defraud and evade taxes through falsifying business records.
They were convicted on all 17 counts following a trial, marking the first time the companies had ever been found guilty of crimes.
Trump himself was not charged but the verdict inflicted further reputational damage as he seeks the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.
“While corporations can’t serve jail time, this consequential conviction and sentencing serves as a reminder to corporations and executives that you cannot defraud tax authorities and get away with it,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who prosecuted the case.
The Trump Organization, currently run by Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric, hid compensation it paid to top executives between 2005 and 2021.
Longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison on Tuesday, and agreed to pay $2 million in fines, for his role in the scam.
He pleaded guilty to scheming with the company to receive undeclared benefits such as a rent-free apartment in a posh neighborhood, luxury cars for him and his wife, and his grandchildren’s enrollment in an expensive private school.
The 75-year-old admitted 15 counts of tax fraud and testified against the Trump Organization as part of a plea bargain. He did not implicate Trump during the trial.
Trump has branded the case a “witch hunt” and claimed that Weisselberg acted alone.
– Civil suit –
Friday’s fine does not end the legal troubles of the former president, who has been repeatedly accused of breaking laws.
Trump was impeached twice while president in 2017-2021, for abuse of power and obstruction of justice in the first case, and for incitement of insurrection in the second, following the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Congress by his followers.
In December, the congressional investigation into January 6 concluded that he should be prosecuted for insurrection and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Trump is also under investigation for allegedly illegally keeping highly classified documents at his Florida Mar-a-Lago home and obstructing the investigation into the case.
In the state of Georgia, he faces possible indictment for interfering with voting there during the November 2020 election, which Trump lost to President Joe Biden.
And in New York, state Attorney General Letitia James has filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of fraud by overvaluing assets to secure loans and then undervaluing them to minimize taxes.
James is seeking $250 million in penalties as well as banning Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.
Elsewhere Friday, a judge rejected Trump’s request to dismiss a defamation and battery lawsuit brought by journalist E. Jean Carroll who says Trump raped her in a New York department store in the 1990s.
Trump denies the allegation, which he has called a “complete con job.”